Lion fish are native to the Indian an Pacific Oceans, but thanks to the occasional irresponsible and flummoxed aquarium owner, they’ve taken up quite a foothold in the Caribbean as well. Too much of a foothold, since the spiny, venomous fish is encroaching on the place in the food chain occupied by native species by consuming what those species would normally eat, and lacks natural predators to keep its population in check. Marine parks are doing their best to promote lion fish hunting and eating (once cooked, they are safe for human consumption), but since the fish do not travel in schools and tend to hide among the reefs, spear diving is pretty much the only way to hunt them, and the solution is not efficient against the species reproductive rate.
The answer? The kind of awesome answer? Teach sharks to eat them.
“At the beginning, the divers just killed lionfish and fed sharks with them to get the sharks to develop a taste,” said photographer Antonio Busiello, who observed the process in action.
“In the second step, to have the sharks develop an interest in hunting them, divers started to leave wounded lionfish so that the sharks could taste them. After a while, [the sharks] did start to hunt them and go after them.”
As anyone who’s ever played Odell Down Under knows, being the shark is the best because you can eat anything you come across and the only thing that can eat you is another shark. However,
“The effects of training animals locally are not really ecologically relevant until we find that those predators are in fact preying on lionfish on their own, without human intervention,” [James] Morris said.
Morris is a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ecologist and an expert on lion fish. So far, scientists are uncertain of the full effect of teaching sharks to have a taste for the fish. It may be that lion fish are harder to catch than other shark-food options, which may mean that sharks will decline to sample them on a regular basis. But every little bit helps. And there’s absolutely no Finding Nemo related pun to be made here.
…fine. Hopefully biologists have managed to point out to sharks that lion fish are food. Not friends.
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